Aisling O’Connor: Fur and against ... where does Lady Gaga stand in the great fashion debate?
‘It takes up to 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat. But only one to wear it’ - a slogan which accompanied a 1985 David Bailey directed print and television ad campaign featuring a model strutting the catwalk with a bloody fur coat trailing in her wake. Powerful stuff from the now-extinct animal rights organisation, Lynx. As anti-fur pressure groups used shock tactics and celebrities to almost kill the ages-old love affair with pelts in the ‘80s and ‘90s, this new millennium’s luxe and retro obsessed commercialism is fighting back.
‘For those press and such who are writing about whether or not my fur is actually real, please don't forget to credit the designer HERMES. Thank You!’, cheeky words in 140 characters or less from the queen of envelope pushing, Lady Gaga last week in response to the backlash of her wearing a massive badger coat leaving her hotel in Bulgaria last week.
This comes less than a week after being photographed leaving Armani in New York wearing a just-purchased hot pink mink. And that follows Gaga ‘bigging’ herself up on her way up the celebrity ladder in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres in November 2009. She offered that the thinking behind a bizarre jacket made of felt frogs, ‘I really loved that one in particular because I thought it was a commentary on not wearing fur, 'cause I hate fur and I don't wear fur’.
Going against the grain is what Lady Gaga does (even if it means going against herself), so many expected her to be forgiven for this blatant turnaround in ethics, given her charity work and support of the maligned in society. But this is far from blowing over. Power animal-rights campaigners People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have called Gaga out on her support of the fur industry, and indeed her blasé response to the public criticism on her recent sartorial choices.
But the ‘Born This Way’ activist isn’t the first anti-fur supporter to go turncoat. Former poster girl for PETA, Cindy Crawford singed on to promote a mink-only line Blackglama in 2004, enraging her former partners in ethics. Famously Naomi Campbell, one of the iconic ‘90s supermodels in that PETA campaign ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’, became the star of a Dennis Basso campaign modelling Russian sable coats naked – a rather poignant up-yours to the organisation that she had decided had gone too far with their drastic tactics in targeting high profile fur-fans.
In the minds of the anti-fur campaigner, there are no shades of grey – you wear it or you don’t. You decide on which side of their wrath you stand. The movement is appearing to become more desperate and aggressive as the fur industry experiences resurgence with the rise of retro and luxury in fashion in the past decade - China and Russia have become wealthier and more populous, like America in the early 20th Century when fur began to rise in the style stakes.
PETA insists that it has always openly and politely pleaded with famous faces and the public at large to refrain from buying and wearing fur. Its campaigns, website and the actions of members and supporters would say otherwise. We are mostly familiar with the faces (and bodies) of Pamela Anderson, Charlize Theron, Eva Mendes, Christy Turlington, Twiggy and most recently Olivia Munn, Penelope Cruz and Justin Bieber as advocates of the animal-rights movement.
However PETA’s not-so-friendly actions include billboard campaigns warning on the dangers of dairy - ‘Got Autism?’ and ‘Santa’s Not Coming This Christmas – Milk Can Make You impotent’ – and specific to fur - flour and red paint bombing celebrities at fashion weeks and on red carpets. Recently the group’s blog cutely reached out to Naomi Campbell, on the revelation that she is balding, that they would supply her with faux fur hair pieces and vegan-friendly hats. PETA has turned a faithful crusade for the protection of animals into a series of sarcastic hate tactics.
PETA has reason to be desperate. Celebrity pelt lovers Kate Moss, Madonna, JLo, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian are only happy to trot about in the latest garments coming down the line from the Fall 2012 collections in New York, London, Milan and Paris, where Viktor & Rolf, JPG, Prabal Gurung, Oscar De La Renta, Mulberry, Fendi, Jason Wu, DKNY , Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors (to name but a few) prominently featured fur for the coming season. Trending retro styles from the 1920 to the mid-century can be attributed to the current taste for the controversial coat and trim.
The iconic status of fur comes from the early 20th Century when America’s population was growing in an era of massive immigration, and increased wealth, the demands of practicality and fashion crossed paths. Fur coats and hats were status symbols of wealth and luxury, and the best defence against the winter elements before the development of synthetic fibres.
The introduction of the Hollywood movie siren in the 1930s only wafted the flames of demand for the glamorous coat. The likes of Gaga, Moss and a recently flour-bombed Kardashian are the purveyors of the trend to the upwardly mobile generations of the 21st Century.
There are many in the fashion industry fighting back to regain the ground won in the ‘80s and ‘90s by animal-rights campaigners. Stella McCartney is one of a growing group of fashion industry professionals calling for fur-free fashion. In February 2011 Oslo became the first of the fashion weeks to ban the fabric, and a sizeable group of Dutch designers, photographers and celebrities are campaigning to do the same on their home soil.
McCartney and PETA are among those fur-free fashion organisations, brands and department stores (also including Topshop, Mark & Spencer, Brown Thomas and Harvey Nichols) who encourage the production and sale of the ultimate in fast fashion, synthetic or ‘faux’ fur.
So with many alternatives available to us at every end of the market, why is fur still so popular in the face of political correctness and hideous images of animal cruelty?
It’s all about ethics. If you wear fur, fully aware of the malpractices in the fur industry, (as much as pro-fur lobbyists label with guaranteed supply chain) you are supporting animal cruelty. On the other side of the coin, as one anonymous Democrat pondered online, if you wear faux-fur you are in a very real way ‘contributing to the social acceptability and fashion cachet of fur’.
Anti-fur campaigners can jump up-and-down all they want about Lady Gaga and the legion of fashion designers turning a blind eye to the plight of millions of defenceless animals. Pushing alternatives that look exactly like fur on the public (which most people in the street could not differentiate from the original), and aggressively attacking celebrities seems hypocritical and thoughtless.
PETA should think about addressing the issue from a positive perspective and encourage consumers to make smart choices about buying ethically-produced, sustainable fabrics, in the place of animal hide that is no longer necessary to keep us warm in this great age of technology and engineering – as opposed to suggesting we buy into man-made alternatives that will ultimately end up in landfill.
How can those of us on the fence take either side of the argument seriously when the message is so often built from a la carte options, and shifts to-and-from extremes according to fluctuations in trend and politics? Morals will always be compromised by money and pretty looking things. Ethics is as ethics does, and at this juncture many are still ordering a Morals & Tonic at the bar.